Dame Shirley's pounds 31m fight moves to High Court

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The Independent Online
The decision to impose a pounds 31.6m surcharge on Dame Shirley Porter and five former colleagues in the Westminster City Council "homes for votes" affair will reach the High Court in October.

The former Tory council leader, who has indicated she wishes to submit fresh evidence, was one of those directed yesterday to be available for cross examination at a six-week appeal to begin on 2 October. Her QC asked the three senior judges in the case to disregard the "horrifying" publicity surrounding it.

Three Westminster councillors and three officials, including Dame Shirley, who now lives in Israel, were accused by the district auditor, John Magill, of "wilful misconduct" and "disgraceful and improper gerrymandering" between 1987 and 1989.

In May last year he made them jointly and severally liable to repay the pounds 31.6m estimated to have been spent by the council moving council tenants from marginal wards and selling their homes cheaply to people who were more likely to vote Conservative, in an effort to fix election results.

Lawyers for Dame Shirley and her former colleagues will argue in court that the auditor's methods of procedure and conclusions were fundamentally flawed and the record surcharge was unfair.

Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Latham and Mr Justice Keene, laid down a timetable for the hearing and gave directions on the extent to which fresh evidence would be admissible before them.

Lord Justice Rose said it would be for the appellants to open the case and seek to establish that there was "something amiss" with the auditor's decision. If they overcame that hurdle, it would be for the auditor to prove they were guilty of wilful misconduct.

Other appellants are: former deputy leader David Weeks; former housing chairman Peter Hartley; former managing director Bill Phillips, and Graham England, former director of housing. Mr England's former assistant Paul Hayler, who has undergone treatment for depression, has had his appeal stayed until further order. The surcharge is suspended pending the High Court challenge.